What is the current position regarding the U.S. Coast Guard re-engining contract for the Dolphin?
We have delivered 54 re-engining kits–just over half the total requirement–to the Coast Guard in Virginia and have a contract to modify 11 Dolphins here in Mississippi, with an option for a further six. The first one of those started flight-testing at the end of January and should be being delivered around now. The Arriel 2C2 engines will soon be produced and provided by Turbomeca’s U.S. facility.
The deadline for completing the whole program has now been extended to March or April 2007 and our current plan is to complete our last Dolphin in February–so there is some flexibility. If the Coast Guard’s own program slips for any reason, we can exercise our option and take on up to six more.
Are your component production plans on schedule and have you progressed beyond making the stabilizers for the AStar family? Are you diversifying into other types?
We have now been qualified by Eurocopter to build all AStar tailbooms as well, and are anticipating clearance to make the boom for the EC 145 as well. This is part of Eurocopter’s strategy to win the U.S. Army’s LUH [Light Utility Helicopter] competition but, whatever the decision, the work will be transferred to Columbus. We are making composite cowlings for the Dolphin as part of the Coast Guard contract, but when that is finished we will continue with that for other variants around the world.
Eurocopter is working as a group to reduce the production cycle for all its helicopters. Here we are looking at the engine installation processes and working toward having the engines delivered here instead of sending them to France for installation. It is clear that this will significantly reduce timescale and costs.
You have delivered your first “U.S.-made” AS 350. Did the assembly and delivery process go smoothly?
It went very well. The FAA production certification and authorization process was extremely smooth. We are now working on the seventh and eighth ships and all of our 2006 production is committed to U.S. customers. Out of nearly 40 AStar deliveries planned for this year around the world, 13 will come from here. By 2007, all of them should be U.S.-built.
How close are you to achieving full capacity in Mississippi?
We are nearly there. We currently have 116 staff members, including fewer than 10 Frenchmen, and anticipate a total of between 140 and 150 by the end of the year. That’s compared with about 20 when we first opened in 2004. Only 10 of them are licensed engineers because most of our work is now manufacturing and assembly.
Can you identify any factors that indicate your chances in the LUH bid have been boosted?
At the end of January, we announced that if we win the LUH contract, assembly of the EC 145 will take place in Mississippi. We have had very good support from the state in setting up the operation and the local community in providing the employees we need. I hope the federal government will see that we have made the investments we promised and agree that, as an American company, we should be assessed like any other American company.
Flight evaluation of the four helicopters competing for the LUH program started in Alabama at the end of January. Site visits have also been taking place and the decision is due at the end of April.